What does being pretty have to do with police work?

I don’t have cable television, but I do have Google Alerts, one of which (“dallas women,” imagine that) always sends me the latest clips of Police Women of Dallas, which I was prepared to hate long before I ever actually watched it. And certainly the schlock written about the show on its own website (“don’t let their dimples and bubbly personalities fool you”) is as infantilizing and stereotyping as it gets. Ladies! Policing! Someone grab the smelling salts!

But I’ve been watching clips of the show for weeks now, and spoon-fed, “Real Housewives” style reality programming this isn’t. It’s basically an improvement over the old idea of COPS, but with all lady cops instead of, well, lady and man cops. There’s a lot of honest talk about danger, single motherhood, and gender roles in the office and at home. It’s a surprisingly humanizing, thoughtful take on women police in a male-dominated field.

Which is why I have to wonder if ChickTalk Dallas, a Pegasus News content partner, has ever seen the show. If they had, I don’t think they’d be using a sensational news peg–the death of Arlington police officer Jillian Smith after a domestic violence call–to say things like this:

“Are they really focusing on actual professional brave women, women like Jillian Smith, or big girls with big boobs and big guns? Is it a good thing that a person who gets pulled over says, “hey, I saw you on TV.” Some police departments are re-evaluating their openness to TV crews including the Memphis homicide unit (often featured in The First 48). I’m not sure what the answer is, but if our daughters, sisters and friends are thinking of police work they need to keep in mind women like Officer Jillian Smith. And not the TLC’s Police Women: “Bad girls, bad girls, what ya gonna do? What ya gonna do when they come for you?”

Writer Joanna Cattanach seems to think that the TLC show’s stars’ attractive appearance is somehow related to their ability to perform their jobs–that being pretty means they can’t possibly be “real” cops. Following this, I guess we’re to understand that the deceased Officer Jillian Smith is unattractive and therefore a real cop? Not only is the logic of this preposterous, but it perpetuates an idea that has been dogging women in the workplace for years, which is that their ability to work is rooted in the way they look, and specifically, in their performance of an accepted, mandated kind of femininity. And here, you’re damned if you do and if you don’t–too pretty, and you’re a bimbo, but if you’re too ugly, you’re not worth anyone’s time.

Further, the ChickTalk piece singles out women specifically as people who need worrying about in terms of police work–“if our daughters, sisters and friends are thinking of police work they need to keep in mind women like Officer Jillian Smith”–never mind the fact that the job has to be as deadly and dangerous for men as it is for women.

Why would portrayals of female cops on television be especially detrimental to women, but portrayals of male cops on television not be detrimental to men, unless one kind of thinks women are too delicate for policework–and moreover, unable to distinguish television from reality?

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in famousness, media, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What does being pretty have to do with police work?

  1. jtmbls says:

    Thank you so much for your very thoughtful rebuttal to that disgusting presentation offered up by Chick Talk. I was mortified and embarassed on behalf of the fallen officer and all women everywhere.

    Looking forward to reading more of Hay Ladies!

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